• Mystery on the Isle of Shoals

  • Closing the Case on the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873
  • By: J. Dennis Robinson
  • Narrated by: Adam Grupper
  • Length: 14 hrs and 34 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (112 ratings)

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Mystery on the Isle of Shoals

By: J. Dennis Robinson
Narrated by: Adam Grupper
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Publisher's Summary

For the first time, the full story of a crime that has haunted New England since 1873. The cold-blooded ax murder of two innocent Norwegian women at their island home off the coast of New Hampshire has gripped the region since 1873, beguiling tourists, inspiring artists, and fueling conspiracy theorists. The killer, a handsome Prussian fisherman down on his luck, was quickly captured, convicted in a widely publicized trial, and hanged in an unforgettable gallows spectacle. But he never confessed and, while in prison, gained a circle of admirers whose blind faith in his innocence still casts a shadow of doubt. A fictionalized best-selling novel and a Hollywood film have further clouded the truth.

Finally a definitive "whydunnit" account of the Smuttynose Island ax murders has arrived. Popular historian J. Dennis Robinson fleshes out the facts surrounding this tragic robbery gone wrong in a captivating true crime pause-register. Robinson delves into the backstory at the rocky Isles of Shoals as an isolated centuries-old fishing village was being destroyed by a modern luxury hotel. He explores the neighboring island of Appledore where Victorian poet Celia Thaxter entertained the elite artists and writers of Boston. It was Thaxter's powerful essay about the murders in the Atlantic Monthly that shocked the American public. Robinson goes beyond the headlines of the burgeoning yellow press to explore the deeper lessons about American crime, justice, economics, and hero worship. Ten years before the Lizzie Borden ax murder trial and the fictional Sherlock Holmes, Americans met a sociopath named Louis Wagner - and many came to love him.

©2014 J. Dennis Robinson (P)2014 Audible Inc.

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What listeners say about Mystery on the Isle of Shoals

Average Customer Ratings
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent read

Well-researched and chilling, the author goes to great lengths to place the reader in the time and unique place of this awful crime while raising important questions about the death penalty, the role of literature and the existence of evil.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Not much of a whydunit

It doesn't take very long for the listener to recognize that the author doesn't really have enough material to fill out the 14.5 hour running time of the audiobook. Having strenuously asserted there is no whodunit, the author therefore must spend the time elsewhere. There is a good deal of time for pushback against certain media representations of the crime, which are in conflict with the author's beliefs. But mostly, there are numerous tangents that are used make up the time. While some of them do help build atmosphere and describe immigrant experiences in 19th century New England, too often they are just digressions, which don't necessarily serve the author well. I'm not sure the chronicles of ax murders in America did much to bolster the case that the correct man had been found guilty. Nor were the extensive forays into the horrific history of state executions all that persuasive. These are the two biggest items on the author's agenda. I finished the book, but was left none the wiser about whether it had truly closed the case.

6 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

It’s pronounced HAY-Vril.

So far the story is good (about have way through) but narrators learn how to properly pronounce New England cities and towns
Haverhill, MA is pronounced HAY-Vril. Worcester is pronounced WUSS-tah. Concord, MA and Concord, NH are pronounced CONK-erd.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

4 Stars for atmosphere

Took me back to the time and place.Although very interesting I found the book overlong. Details on the area and what the press said could be cut in half.However Mr Robinson's incite into the lives of these people make his book well worth reading.Not to mention one feels they have visited those isles

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Good Historical Research and Narration

i might have enjoyed this more if I hadn't read a long form article about the Smutty Nose murders. The author adds a lot of detail some of which is intresting and some of which aren't.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Lots of White Space

About half of this is filler. Like a kid
trying to meet the minimum word
requirement for a term paper. The other
half is worth hearing.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A comfortable, engaging story

I greatly enjoyed this book. It is very well researched and very well written. It is a wonderful counter to the character assassination so often inflicted on Maren Hontvet. The author does a lot of world building, and provides a good deal of background information (like the history of the settlement of New England) and information to put the events of the book into their correct context (like the debate which was taking place in the 1870s surrounding capital punishment). If you are anxious to get the facts of the case quickly, these could feel like pointless tangents, and be quite irritating. But if you are willing to go with the flow, the book will take you on a very enjoyable and informative ride.

My only complaint is the narrator’s voice, which is distractingly nasal at times, but I found I got used to it in not very much time.

One note: I have seen several reviews saying that the author is pompous. I disagree. I think the author is exasperated by the untruths which stubbornly continue to circulate about this case and of having to have the same conversation over and over again to dispel them. This does come through a bit at the very beginning and the very end of the book, but I think he is perfectly justified in being exasperated, and I don’t mind that it comes through a little bit in his writing. It shows he cares about the topic.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Title is deceiving

This book is more about the history of the Isles of Shoales than about the murders, the trial, or who really committed the crime.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Unnecessarily Long & Wandering

I learned a lot certainly but I feel like there was way too much time wasted on pointless info. It didnt need all the extra stuff that didnt have much to do with the case. Also, the author puts himself in a box by saying conspiracy theories are believed by people with low self esteem. I used to think that when I was in my teens. but one can believe something different and still be "wise".

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great Book!

This is a great example of what a novel should be! Well researched and it did not go off and various tangents like other books tend to do. This is a bit longer too but that's a great thing as well since it was so interesting.
Highly recommended!

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  • Young Tarquin
  • 03-04-22

Well that went on

By the end of it you are glad they are all dead and gone.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mr. R Wexler
  • 12-14-21

Robert

superb, much, much better than I expected. I thought that it would have been a run of the mill detective story but this book looks at the historical background to a murder and the associated human behaviour and a whole lot more. If you enjoy this book you should listen to 'Cod, a fish that changed the world by Mark Kurlansky.